Friday, November 25, 2011

My Blog of Thanks Giving

Happy Thanksgiving, readers!

I hope you are all snuggled up on the couch, catching up on sleep, reading a book, or enjoying a football game! For me, Thanksgiving took on a whole new importance after my cancer diagnosis. Prior to cancer, Thanksgiving for me was simply the dress rehearsal for Christmas. Now, after cancer, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I so appreciate this one day a year when I can sit back, surrounded by my loved ones who know me and my struggle best, and count my proverbial blessings.

Every year, my family goes around the dinner table and proposes a toast to his or her greatest blessing. Prior to cancer I always came up with something, but it was never anything that truly stirred my heart. Post-cancer, I was giving thanks for just about everything- from my health care insurance, to my co-workers who covered for me on sick days, to the plumber who cleaned a whole head's worth of my hair out of our shower drain. Everything, even the most inconsequential, took on a new importance post-cancer.

This year, for a moment back in October, that happiness, that ability to give thanks and mean it, even for the small stuff, the ability to count my blessings was taken away from me. I had trouble finding things to be thankful for when I was facing constant, aching back pain from my bone metastasis. It was hard to be thankful when my hair was falling out in huge clumps every time I took a shower. It was hard to be thankful when the Taxol started giving me daily nosebleeds. It was really hard to be thankful when, not only was I self conscious about my newly sheared head, but I also started breaking out in a hot red rash all over my face and bald head from the steroids. It was hard to be thankful when I missed a best college friend's wedding because I didn't have enough energy after chemo to make the cross country trip. But most of all, it was hard to give thanks for even the most constant blessing - my family and friends - when I looked around the room, remembered the terrible news my doctor had given, and imagined future Thanksgivings without me at the table.

I was running the risk of becoming jaded. I didn't like jaded Bridget. Jaded Bridget was not in line with my sunny personality. Had cancer finally won on every front? Had it taken away not only my health, my good looks, my physical ability to provide for my family, but even my happy personality?

I didn't know how to deal with this. I was having nightmares about visiting the pearly gates and being denied admission - very vivid dreams where I would be grilled by a scary looking judge about every piece of nasty gossip I had spread and every lie I'd ever told. I was petrified by and obsessed with the thought that we might have a vengeful God on our hands.

One Sunday afternoon, Big Man came home from a weekend away with friends. He asked me what I had done all weekend long in his absence and I did what so many wives would do. I lied. Did I tell him I sat on the couch all weekend and read that trashy chick lit novel I'd been meaning to get to since summer? Did I tell him I let the dog sleep in bed with me because I wanted some company while I ate popcorn and watched "Princess Bride" for the 50th time? No, I told Big Man that I spent the weekend at the grocery store, walking the dog, and "running errands" because Big Man wouldn't even know what errands exactly needed running. That beautiful fall Sunday evening, I fell asleep in our crisply cold room and woke up in a sweat at 4am from that same nightmare. Vengeful God had condemned me to an eternity in hell for lying to my husband about the dog sleeping and the book reading.

October was a tough month for me.

But then, without warning, hope and joy started peeking through in the most unexpected of places when I wasn't even looking for it.  Hope found me in the bathroom when I lost my hair.

The first time I went through chemo and lost my hair six years ago, I visited a fancy salon to have my head shaved. They took me into a private back room, and some woman I've never seen before or since shaved me in about 5 minutes. This time around, I was much more matter-of-fact about the whole hair loss. I was prepared. I had done this before.

Me in my wig the night after Big Man shaved my hair.
That's one good-looking wig & he's one good-looking hubby!
One morning, I woke up and I couldn't take the itching anymore. (Chemo kills your hair follicles so they itch and the hair shaving actually comes as a bit of a welcome relief.) I woke up Big Man. Without even a word of protest, even though it was only 7am on a Saturday morning, Big Man got up. He and I walked hand-in-hand to Walgreen's. We purchased a pair of clippers, I stuck my head into the sink, and my husband shaved off all my hair. He cried a bit, which made me cry. I thanked him profusely, which made him cry.  But in the end, a moment I had dreaded actually gave me hope. I will cherish that memory forever. After seven years together, shaving my head in the bathroom sink was certainly our most intimate moment. We were a scared young couple looking ahead toward an uncertain future, but at least we were doing it together. He had my back. He would take care of me. "In sickness and in health" we had told each other when I still had hair and boobs. Big Man proved he meant those vows when he shaved my head last month, slowly, carefully, and whispering soft words of comfort when I cried.

I also found hope that I was afraid to share with all of you. I'm still so afraid to share this news with you because I'm afraid next week the tide will turn. My heart and hope might be crushed again, and only God knows when. When this good news changes, I will be forced to explain the change to all of you, and then all of you will be crushed right along with me. I'm also so afraid that, by sharing my hope here with all of you, I might be jinxing it! I always prided myself on being factual, logical, grounded.... now I fear cancer is making me all religious and superstitious!

But I can't keep the news to myself any longer. If I jinx myself, so be it!

Taxol gave me hope. The most unexpected drug has given me hope for a future. Taxol was a drug that was given to buy me more time. It was meant to keep the "cancer at bay" and "minimize the pain from my metastasis." After years of enrolling in clinical trials and taking the latest, greatest, best, most touted new medicines, Taxol, first discovered back in 1967, has turned out to be "The Drug" that I was hoping for! At least for now....

When I last got scans back at the beginning of October, my tumor markers were extremely high. The most important tumor marker in my blood that my doctors look at each week is called CA 27-29 and it is a tumor marker that breast cancer cells leave behind in patient's blood. Normally, in a healthy person, CA 27-29 counts range between 0-38. My CA 27-29 count was 965! This critically high tumor marker number is what prompted all the discussion about getting my affairs in order and it's what prompted getting a CT scan earlier than expected, which is what uncovered the tumors in my lungs and bones.

Well ladies and gentlemen, I am happy to tell you that my blood work this past month has been steadily dropping! The first few weeks of Taxol, they didn't take any tumor marker bloodwork. They wanted my body to get used to my new drug before trying to measure its efficacy. November 2nd was the big day. November 2nd, I went in with Big Man and Mom to meet with my doctor to find out the results of my first tumor marker test on Taxol. I was petrified! I was so scared that the Taxol wouldn't have had an effect and we would be one more drug closer to death.

I was prepared to give you all an update on my hair loss and impending doom on November 2nd when, to my surprise, I was told my tumor markers had dropped from 965 to 587. I was shocked, I was thrilled,  I was completely unprepared for this foreign thing we call "Good News." However, I was still afraid. I realized then that I was afraid to hope. Cancer had left me jaded and afraid of hope.

Unable to share the news for fear of a jinx, I simply stayed silent. I stayed off the radar. As unused to good news as I had become, I continued planning as if the good news hadn't happened. I still want to schedule a meeting with my priest, but I no longer had nightmares about the pearly gates.

Then, at my appointment on November 16th, my markers fell to 300!

Then, at this week's appointment, my marker fell to 234!

I feel a little bit like I'm watching a Thanksgiving football game, and my team just got a first down. Improbable as it might be, we got another first down, and then another. The TD is now within my sites. I'm allowing myself to dream. I'm allowing myself to set goals. If I could get down below 100... 38 could be attainable. 38 means normal. How I would love to be normal! I'm right there in field goal range of normal. I can taste it.

November has allowed me to hope.

Back in October, my doctor told Big Man and me to go on a trip. We should take a trip so that we could take quality time away together while I was still feeling good, today. My bone pain was manageable with Advil, today. We needed to take advantage of our time together because we were together, today. So we did, we booked a trip to Europe at Christmas and we're so excited! But our excitement was also tinged with sadness. What was this trip? People take honeymoons. People now take "Babymoons." What was this a "Goodbye-moon?"

 Now with this good news, that trip has taken on such a more fun and exciting feel. What other good news might we celebrate come Christmas? Maybe we could finally be like other couples and truly leave our worries at home? Maybe in the New Year we could start imagining a new home in our future? A home where we had the room to host more than 6 people for Thanksgiving dinner? A home of our very own, not an 800 sq foot condo? A home that we could decorate as we see fit for the Christmas holiday? A home that we could call our forever home? A home with space for an office AND a nursery? A nursery.

At chemo on November 23rd, instead of blogging as I should have, or answering emails as I should have, I allowed myself to google adoption resources in Massachusetts. I bookmarked the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families. If I get those tumor markers down to 38, down to the normal patient range, I'm going to allow myself to call their 800 number and start asking questions. Then maybe in 2013, when we're in our new forever home, I could actually schedule a home study. Hey, a girl can hope can't she?

I may be bald and covered in acne. I might not recognize myself in the mirror. I may have daily nosebleeds. I may have to sleep 13 hours every night, but at least I have hope. Those are just inconveniences. I wouldn't even elevate them to the level of "side effects." They are a mere nuisance, and they are a small price to pay for hope.

I realize as I'm writing this that I am getting all excited about just one month's worth of results. I know this is a marathon and not a sprint. I know that things can turn on a dime. But this Thanksgiving, I'm so Thankful for hope. I'm so Thankful for just one more day; just one more year. I don't want to get too greedy. I don't want to get ahead of myself. But I do want to take a moment and enjoy that future so many people take for granted. Thanks, God.

34 comments:

Thumper said...

Damn...it's dusty in here and now my eyes are leaking... :)

Anonymous said...

What wonderful news! Thanks be to God!!

Anonymous said...

Your blog has made my heart soar today. Your hope is a blessing to those of us cheering you on from afar. It reminds us all to look for hope in the least obvious places and to appreciate every blessing God puts before us, no matter how small. Reach for the stars as you plan your future, Bridgette! Love and prayers from Florida.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing and have a wonderful trip! God hears your prayers and he is hugging you and Big Man! I am so glad I read your blog this evening what wonderful news!!!

Anonymous said...

I've been reading your blog for a couple of months and you've completely sucked me in with your great humor,wit, strength, and loving spirit.

Enjoy Europe and please blog about where you visit. I can't wait to read about your and Big Man's adventures. Hes a gem and I'm so glad you have a loving supportive spouse. My heart goes out to you both at this holiday season, with prayers that the taxol continues to work well.

Anonymous said...

Bridget, that IS exciting news!! I'm so happy for you! Go for the TD, Baby! You can do it!!! Enjoy that trip, too!

Mandy said...

Yay Bridgette!!! How amazing! I love that you have hope again. (Pssst, I have a secret....even when you weren't hoping very hard, all of us were hoping SO hard for you, everyday!) I hope your trip is lovely!

Patty Mellon said...

Bridget your blog - whether happy or sad - is such a blessing to so many. Thank you for sharing yourself with us. Thank you for reminding me to appreciate EVERY moment. Celebrating in your good news. Keep hope alive - miracles are everywhere around us and the game of life is on!

Sue in Italia/In the Land Of Cancer said...

I am so happy that Taxol is giving you hope. I have been following your blog for some time. The picture of you two was so precious. Have fun in Europe!

Cathy said...

Keep living life large. Hope becomes reality. Enjoy your European adventure and remember, we all are rooting for you.

Anonymous said...

I am so, so happy for you. Hope is powerful! Thrilled that you're getting to taste it, relish it, again. Keeping you in my thoughts always.

Anonymous said...

I am one of many TWPs in Amesbury that root for you, without even having met you. Your blog today has put a great big smile on my face. Enjoy your time in Europe and know that many, many people are inspired by you and HOPE for you and the Big man, every single day!!

JodyP said...

YOU ARE AMAZING! <3 SOOOO happy to hear the news and SOOOO happy you shared!! I have a huge smile on my face. Enjoy your trip.
XO
TWP Jody

Anonymous said...

OMG Bridget! Thank you so much. I am a member of the Cup Crusaders and I introduced myself to you at the 2010 3-day in Boston. I am a stage IV cancer survivor. Reading your blog was like reading my thoughts. From the spinal pain from bone metastasis, to the shaving of the head, to the rashes and burning on my feet, to the thoughts at Thanksgiving imagining it without me there, to the superstitions and pretending to your husband that you did more than what you said. To this day, i suffer from nerve damage and peripheral neuropathy. I stagger around and make fun of myself pretending it's something else. I too, have a wonderful husband who travels this journey, not just beside me, but with me (and 3 sons, one of which was a member of the Boston Youth Corps 2011). I am currently in remission, have been for a year. And although my doctor says i'm a miracle and he's just my chaperone; he still anticipates the need for chemo in the future and that cancer will eventually come back. I say NO! You are my inspiration. Can't wait to see you in July, and THANK YOU!

Your survivor sister
Heather Morse

Jay Furr said...

Bridget, I'm super-glad and super-thankful to hear your good news! Enjoy Europe! You'll be in our prayers!

Robyn Clark said...

Oh Bridget you are such a miracle! I am so thankful for your uplifting news and I'm crossing every finger and toe I have and hoping and praying that the good news continues. You are truly brave.

Laur said...

YAY!!!!!!! That is WONDERFUL, Bridget! I'm SO SO SO happy for you. I can't say it enough…half the battle is in your head, and that my friend, gives me hope for you. You have the best outlook out of anyone I know. The story of you and your hubby shaving your head brought tears to my eyes. What an extremely amazing couple you are. Although you have had many hiccups here and there, you have much to be thankful and hopeful for right now and in the future. Have a wonderful trip!!! XO

Anonymous said...

What good news! I hope you and your dear husband have a wonderful time in Europe!

Mandi said...

Bridget, I hope you guys have an amazing trip! I understand the superstition, cancer has certainly made me superstitious. Your post brought tears to my eyes, I hope only the best for you two.

Meghan M said...

Hi Bridget - I came across your blog today and it struck such a cord with me. I am also a young woman dealing with Metastatic BC. I was diagnosed in March, two days after I turned 29. I have mets to my spine. I am always desperately seeking other young women with MBC to relate to. Your post sounds so similar to my most recent blog post and it's like you have taken some of the words right out of my mouth. I would love to connect with you, if you ever feel up to it. My email is meghanmalley@yahoo.com and my blog is www.leatsbeatthisthing.weebly.com. Congratulations on your great success so far with Taxol! I'll definitely be keeping you in my prayers.
-Meghan Malley

Liliana Holtzman said...

Yes, you can have hope dear angel.

Hurray for Taxol!

Sending you hugs and hope that those wonderful wishes will come true.
Enjoy Europe and have a glorious time.

Patty said...

Here's to hope. I am thankful for it every day and more than thankful for the fact that you are getting to enjoy it right now. Enjoy Europe...I know you will!

Anonymous said...

Bridget, hoping for many more "base hits!" Keep dreaming, and we'll keep praying for you. Love, Carrie Cook

Peg said...

Soooo very very powerful!!! I'm very happy to hear of this drug and its positive effect for you. I can't wait to find out your baby's name :) <3 <3

kjl said...

Praise God for such amazing news! Once again, you are defying all odds, and I'm so excited for you! You are such an amazing person and an inspiration to all! Prayers to you from Lawrence, Kansas!

Anonymous said...

Praise God! I will be praying for your recovery! I'm so glad that through this you still can find hope and a positive attitude.

Stacey said...

Just thinking about you today and sending prayers to you!

Dawn Kissane said...

Bridgette. This is incredible news. I'm hoping you had a fabulous trip and Happy New Year!

Anonymous said...

An update on your trip & health would be soooo nice. :)

~Andrea in Indiana

from Czech Republic (Europe) said...

Bridget, are you ok? I hope you are enjoying yourself somewhere, not thinking about cancer at all :)

Anonymous said...

Briget - I've been wondering about you and praying for you. Please update us on how you are doing soon! Miss your posts. :)

Chrissy said...

Really hope that you're doing okay. Please keep us updated!

Diana M. Raab said...

I am a breast cancer survivor, nurse and writer and would like to offer my services as a guest blogger on your blog in honor of October, breast cancer awareness month.

Further, I would like to send you a copy of my self-help memoir, WRITING TO HEAL: A WRITER'S CANCER JOURNEY, and in return, perhaps you can review it on your blog and on Amazon. I would also like to offer free copies to your readers newly diagnosed with breast cancer.

For more information about me, please check out my website below.

Warm wishes,
Diana


Diana M. Raab, RN, MFA

WEB: http://www.dianaraab.com
BLOG: http://www.dianaraab.com/blog

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